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the POW camp of Zonderwater in South Africa

I was very young when my granduncle died. He bequeathed me a collection of very ancient and precious volumes about the French Revolution, but I remember really few things about him. My mother remembered that he had been far away from home for many years during wartime, but she didn't know where he was exactly. She could only remember that my grandmother one day heard someone knocking at the door, she opened and there was a young but very thin man in front of her. She asked, "Can I help you?" and the young man answered "It's me Lina. I'm your husband's brother, Dario, back from Africa".

That's all what I knew until some years ago. What did it mean? Nobody asked further, because he preferred to forget, and everyone in my family knew that. And everyone forgot....until when I grew up enough to understand and ask.


Only three words.....BACK FROM AFRICA

images/home/grand-uncle-young.png granduncle in Zonderwater prisoners camp Granduncle after the war
So some years ago, after having helped visitors to find the places where their grandfathers, fathers, brothers and uncles fought during the battles of Monte Cassino, I decided that also my family's story was important, and I wanted to know as much as possible about the adventures my uncle had, during the war.
It was not easy to know what to do.
I'm a girl, no idea of how the army works, no idea of service record books. But one day, I was on
 Facebook when I discovered a group called "Zonderwaterwith its fabulous webpage, about the
 Italian prisoners that lived in a POW camp in South Africa. I wrote to the Association there and the Engineer Emilio Coccia answered me immediately: my granduncle was on the list of
 Zonderwater camp. So I asked for the help of the Facebook group and Enzo and Elisa, the admins of
 the group helped me to understand what to do and where I could write and ask. I needed 1 year of researches to know the few things i know now, but every time I received an email or a letter, it was for me a great emotion.
I wrote and researched at the following organizations:
  • International Red Cross of Geneva
  • Vatican Secret Archives
  • National Italian Archives of Vercelli
  • Zonderwater Museum and Archive in South Africa



All what I discover until today:
My uncle was born in northern Italy in Trino on 23rd June 1910, and after finishing to study, he reached the Seminary to become a priest. He finished seminary and became a military Chapelain.
First he was sent to Libya in 1937, but he come back on 24th August 1938. After about one year, he was recalled to the active military duty. This time he was assigned to the 204° RGT. Art. Div. "3 Gennaio", and he boarded the steamer "Sicilia" to reach Derma in Libya again.
The POW camp of Zonderwater
During Operation Compass he was captured in Sidi El Barrani  on  10th December. Here the war records stop, no more news about what happened when he was a prisoner.
To help me to know something more, I needed the help of Vatican (because he was a Priest, so in Rome I found some of his letters) and the Italian Red Cross (controlling POW camps at the time and recording the names of those that were there)
That's all what I discover:
He was in British hands in the POW Camp of Genaifa , then he was sent to another camp under the Pyramids, then he was transferred to South Africa by boat from Suez in a Pow camp called Zonderwater. He was the prisoner number 31202. While he was in South Africa, he was admitted to the Hospital Premier Camp for a bad gastritis.
Thanks to Engineer Emilio Coccia, researcher in South Africa, I know he arrived in Durban, but we don't know when, then he was transported by train to the transit camp called Clairwood, and only on 11th September 1941 he was in Zonderwar, where he remained until 20th January 1946, when he was first transported to Petermaritzburg-Natal and then back to Durban. On the same day he left Africa on the motor ship "Maloja", and he reached Suez, and then, probably by train, to Port Said.
Then he embarched the Ship "Montecuccoli" in Port said to Naples on 19th Febbruary 1946 and he was finally knocking at my grandmother's door on 28th Febbruary 1946...
6 years later...

(photos are private, but the first one, showing the former Zonderwater camp, was kindly granted



Dr. Anna Maria Priora Ph.D

WW2 Monte Cassino Battlefield expert, researcher and tour guide

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My Granduncle's adventure in WWII